Like most kids, when I was younger, I always wanted to buy souvenirs wherever we went.
Whenever my family traveled, whether it was Providence or London, I would see an interesting
looking store and say the same line over and over again each time, “Please, please, please…can
we go in and get something?” I would find boutiques in hotels, shops in museums, sporting
goods stores at ski resorts.
Whenever this happened, my parents would always say that I could get one item, but only if it
was made in the country or region we were visiting. So when we went into a store, I would pick
up some little tchotchke and turn it upside down, inside out or whatever I needed to do to find
the label and see the country of origin.
This started to be very frustrating as I quickly learned that many things were imported. For example, I would find a snow globe in Canada made in Korea, a little bauble in L.A. made in China, a scarf in New York City made in the Philippines.
Somewhere along the line, my family and I started to call these stores “Made-in-China Shops”. Around this time, a relative of mine actually wrote a book called A Year Without Made in China, which is about an American family trying to go a year without buying anything in China. After reading the book, my mom was more determined than ever not to buy anything made outside of the country we were visiting. In the past, every now and then--without reading the label--I’d toss a feathered pen or cute magnet on the counter in a hotel kiosk when she was buying the newspaper. Not anymore after Sara’s book!
As a family, we discussed how many of our day-to-day items were actually made in Asia. After a while, I realized that about 99 percent of the tourist stores we would go to sold items manufactured elsewhere. I didn’t even bother looking at items anymore...much to my mom and dad’s delight.
When you buy stuff that has been imported to these little tourist shops, you are not
supporting the local economies at all.
Now when I travel, I go out of my way to find items made in the same region. In Greece, you
can purchase beautiful clothes and accessories that are made locally. In African countries, wood carvings,
jewelry and decorative pieces are for sale everywhere.
So if you are as obsessed with shopping as I am, it can be a lot of fun and a challenge to find
locally made items. And the hunt can be well worth it.
This column was written by Justine when she was in middle school; she is now a high school student.